Chateaux in the sky: Amazing apartments of Greater Wilshire

| June 1, 2023 | 0 Comments

I always have to laugh a little when I hear pro-development YIMBYs refer to the neighborhoods of Greater Wilshire as “segregationist,” a term that in their parlance refers to anti-density or anti-apartment buildings, as if Hancock Park, Windsor Square, etc. were strictly single-family zones. Any resident who travels the paths of our bucolic communities knows, however, the truth — that we are a community of exceptional architectural and housing diversity with duplexes, quads and other multi-family residences. And often overlooked, other than thinking about the storied towers of the Rossmore canyon, is that we also possess a collection of some of Los Angeles’ finest historic apartment buildings (three stories and above) on streets beyond Rossmore Avenue.

BIRD’S EYE view of El Royale.

In other articles, I have covered the grand dames of Rossmore: The El Royale, the Ravenswood, Country Club Manor and the truncated 410 N. Rossmore Avenue. These apartment towers represented the pinnacle of architectural ambition within our communities at the time of their design and construction, their illuminated signs bringing a bit of Hollywood to the heart of Greater Wilshire. But, even on Rossmore, there are overlooked architectural gems of note, including The Hermoyne at 569 N. Rossmore Ave., designed by architect Leonard Jones in 1929 and sister to his Castle Argyle in Hollywood. There also is the humble neo-Venetian 649 N. Rossmore Ave. near the corner of Rossmore and Melrose avenues by Frank Rasche, which appeared in Buster Keaton’s “Seven Chances” one year after it was built in 1925 and, finally, the Elizabethan revival style 601 N. Rossmore Ave. by William Allen, designer of Burbank City Hall. Allen was a member of the team that designed the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown.

FAUBOURG ST. DENIS at Beverly and Sycamore. Photo by Anthony Barcelo

An overlooked local street with spectacular period apartment buildings is Sycamore Avenue. Located close to the commercial corridor of La Brea Avenue, to the west, Sycamore Avenue was ideal for the construction of apartment buildings with short walks to shops. The developers of the late 1920s took ample opportunity to utilize the corner lots of Sycamore Avenue to add density and grandeur while maintaining the scale of the overall neighborhood. The finest of these is on the northeast corner of Beverly Boulevard, the elegant, Chateauesque-style Faubourg St. Denis at 308 N. Sycamore Ave. Originally named the Beverly Sycamore, the building was designed in 1928 by James N. Conway to provide seven- and eight-room apartments and duplexes.

On another corner a block to the south, at First Street and Sycamore Avenue, is the 1928 Renaissance Revival Warwick Apartments (109 N. Sycamore Ave.) by Ernest H. Gates. Just across the street from that is the Art Deco Tower of 100 N. Sycamore Ave. designed in 1929 by the Arthur G. Wright Company. Further south is another 1929 construction, The El Pazar at 152 S. Sycamore Ave. Designed by Russell Long, it is a striking Art Deco tower with Spanish detailing, oddly built mid-block, which is a rarity for the multi-family buildings higher than two stories on this street.

The next set of notable apartment buildings is sprinkled throughout Greater Wilshire, outliers in their respective surrounding communities. Included are buildings such as the brick Renaissance Revival 800 N. Las Palmas Ave., a late arrival, built in 1932. On North Larchmont Boulevard, there are smaller apartment buildings including Leonard Jones’ second commission in the area, the 1929 Larchmoyne Apartments at 515 N. Larchmont Blvd. At 562 N. Larchmont Blvd., there is Rudolph Frankenrath Jr.’s quirky façade reputedly designed to serve as different backdrops for silent films.

WARWICK multi-family building at 109 N. Sycamore Ave.

The last selection presented here is a trio of grand dames starting with E.B. Rust’s. (Rust also was the architect of the Van de Kamp Bakery windmills.) Rust designed the legendary 1925 Las Altos Apartments at 4121 Wilshire Blvd., home to the famous two-story, four-bedroom apartment of William Randolph Hearst’s lifelong mistress Marion Davies (as well as home to stars such as Bette Davis and Douglas Fairbanks). Not far away, in the Oakwood / Maplewood / St. Andrews neighborhood, is The Dover Apartments at 4649 Beverly Blvd. That building’s majestic form and monumental painted sign are punctuated by a lone palm tree whose forlorn silhouette is straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel. The Dover even has an auto turntable to rotate cars for parking in its slender garage. Finally, take a look at the Chateau Laurier, the elegantly detailed apartment building at 4357 West Fifth Street, on the corner of Wilton Place. This development was named after the famed Grand Trunk Railway hotel, the Chateau Laurier, in Ottawa, Canada (now the Fairmont Hotel), which had been named for Sir Wilfred Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada from 1896-1911. This gem in our midst was designed by Leland A. Bryant, architect extraordinaire of the Sunset Tower, the Trianon Apartments in Hollywood, and Chateau La Fontaine in West Hollywood. And — back to Rossmore Avenue — Bryant also was the architect of Country Club Manor.

There is a noteworthy final cluster of historic apartment buildings, right here in Greater Wilshire, that is concentrated in the communities between Wilton Place and Western Avenue, from Melrose Avenue to Olympic Boulevard, but those deserve a study of their own. Watch for Part Two!

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Category: Real Estate

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